‘Helping Hands’ or a gang sign? A new piece revisits the controversy over carving in New Jersey summer camps.


C. Ryanne Dominguesa longtime theater professional from Philadelphia, had just started her new job in September 2017 as Artistic Director at Trenton’s Passage Theater Co. when she heard a remarkable story at a meeting.

A few weeks earlier, a group of black and brown teenagers at a Trenton summer camp had created a sculpture out of pots and pans in the shape of hands making an OK sign, painting fingernails red. They chose OK hand gesture in a hat. It was one of many suggestions written on slips of paper, including “thumbs up” or “peace.” They called the art Helping Hands.

The statue, located on vacant land at the corner of Perry and Montgomery streets in Trenton, was erected on a Tuesday in August 2017, with an installation ceremony scheduled for Friday.

But that Friday the sculpture had been taken down amid police concerns reported in the media that the OK sign and the color red were symbols of the Blood gang on a street that was known, a decade earlier, for his gang activity.

Hearing the story at the reunion, Domingues opened his mouth and uttered a phrase that would set the artistic direction for Passage for the next four years, involve dozens of interviews, capture a major grant and engage the arts community in Trenton. .

“Wow,” said Domingues. “It looks like a play.”

And now it is.

the OK Trenton Project, which opens this week, tells the story of the sculpture and the efforts to unpack the societal forces behind the withdrawal of the campers’ art project. In the meantime, the pandemic has started and the OK sign is now often interpreted as the symbol of white supremacy.

“Everything that happened in the world was strangely linked to the sculpture,” said Domingues, who directs the piece.

So, was the OK symbol a gang sign and was Perry Street the right place for the sculpture? It depends on who you ask (and the folks at Passage, with the help of students from Princeton University, asked a lot).

An elder, a longtime ex-Bloods member who is also a well-known Trenton artist, insists that was not the case, Domingues said, and clarified that the young carvers were not gang members.

A former, younger member of the Bloods, Domingues, said the red nails were flagged enough to keep this sculpture away from this street.

In total, Domingues said, it took 35 interviews with students, officials, camp directors, artists, ex-gang members and others to build a script designed by the former associate art director. of Passage. David Lee Whiteplaywright Richard Bradford and members of Ensemble OK Trenton. Tracking down the students and getting permission to interview them has been a challenge during the pandemic.

The sculpture resided in the studio of Philadelphia sculptor Eric Schultz, who led the project that summer.

“For me, the artwork is important, and what’s important are the lessons we learn from it,” Domingues said. “That’s why it’s important that we continue to see art and continue to have conversations.”

When the sculpture was taken down, the conversation was about gangs and fear, she said, not the love and pride that went into creating it.

“The value of this is in contradictory conversations – when someone sees something one way and someone else sees it another. Now we learn and now we talk to each other,” she said.

“When you delete an artwork, you delete a conversation.”

February 10-27, Mill Hill Playhouse, 205 E. Front St., Trenton. 609-392-0766 or passagetheatre.org. Masks and vaccination test or recent negative required.

Two mythical tales – the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and Persephone come to life on stage at the Kimmel Cultural Campus Music Academy in Hadesville with the music of the famous singer-songwriter Anaïs Mitchell. Directed by Rachel Chavkin.

February 9-20, Academy of Music, 240 S. Broad St., Phila. 215-893-1999 or kimmelculturalcampus.org. Masks and compulsory vaccination record.

Cat Ramirez directed cowboy vs samurai in this rom-com love triangle set in Breakneck, Wyoming, where Travis, a high school English teacher, and Chester, an emerging activist, make up the entire Asian population. Then Veronica Lee, a Korean-American biology professor, arrives from New York and the sparks fly. This regional premiere brings to life an 1897 reimagining by Edmond Rostand Cyrano de Bergerac. Produced by Hedgerow Theater Co. in partnership with Philadelphia Asian Artists.

A relaxed performance, suitable for people with autism or sensory communication disorders, and an audio-described performance, for visually impaired viewers, is scheduled for February 20.

February 9-27, Hedgerow Theater, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. 610-565-4211 or hedgerowtheatre.org. Masks and compulsory vaccination record.

When Eve moves to London, she hopes for an exciting life in a big city. It turns out she’s on her own, until she receives a letter mailed to her apartment’s former tenant, Hollywood actor Michael Fassbender. Of course (!), she must return this letter to its rightful owner and Find Fassbender becomes an obsession. Inis Nua Theater Co. stages the American premiere of this solo English play by Lydia Larson and led by Tom Reing, Inis Nua founder and artistic director.

February 9-27, Louis Bluver Theater at the Drake, 302 S. Hicks St., Phila. 215-454-9776 or inisnuatheatre.org. Mandatory masks and proof of vaccination.

Even if the weather outside is awful, Tiny Dynamite Outside Valentine’s day the offering will be delicious, in a heated tent in the historic garden of Powel House in Society Hill. There will be hot chocolate and other hot and cold beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), snacks and a Valentine’s Day themed theatrical show.

February 12-14, Powell House, 244 S. 3d St., Phila. 215-399-0088 or tinydynamite.org. Masks and compulsory vaccination record. Digital February 14-19.

You won’t lose your mind if you go to Villanova University to The revolutionaries through Lauren Gunderson. You will meet fugitive queen Marie-Antoinette, idealistic assassin Charlotte Corday, West Indian spy Marianne Angelle and playwright Olympe de Gouges, all strong historical figures. Valerie Joyce directs this comedy.

February 10-20, John and Joan Mullen Center for the Performing Arts at Villanova University, Lancaster and Ithan Avenues, Villanova. 610-519-7474 or villanovatheatre.org Masks and compulsory vaccination record.



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